OPINION | It is time for Africa to be represented permanently on the UN's Security Council

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The UN Security Council.
The UN Security Council.
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While Africa has largely dominated the Security Council’s agenda, it still does not have adequate representation at the UN body, writes Wesley Seale. 

Pre-recorded video messages by heads of state and government at this year's United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting may be a sign of the times. 

But as I explained to CCTV, this is not the ideal. 

UNGA gatherings have usually been used by countries, especially the clever ones, to use the occasion for bi-and-tri-lateral engagements. 

The first recorded BRICS meeting, then excluding South Africa in 2006, took place on the sidelines of the UNGA between the then four countries' foreign ministers. 

Given that the meeting is happening virtually this year, it does not assist countries who usually use the occasion to strengthen bilateral ties to piggyback on the occasion or kill two or three birds with one stone.

This year the United Nations celebrates 75 years of existence. 

The anniversary comes at an interesting time when the host country of UNGA and the most powerful in the past two decades is tussling between unilateralism and multilateralism. 

Multilateralism: A swear word

The choice of Americans, four years ago, to elect Donald Trump to the Oval Office - who clearly puts the United States first and thinks very little of multilateralism or world organisations - certainly placed the international community in a conundrum. 

In the aftermath of a pandemic such as Covid-19, international organisations such as the UN and WHO should be leading efforts in fighting these onslaughts together with other challenges such as climate change and terrorism.

Yet, for the most powerful nation on earth, multilateralism, as espoused by these organisations, has become a swear word. 

However, one can almost understand the Americans. 

For example, after decades of discussions on reforms to reflect deepening democracy, international organisations such as the UN, World Bank and International Monetary Fund are far from being representative of the world's population. 

Asia, representing 60% of the world's population, has only two permanent seats on the UN Security Council (UNSC); arguably the most powerful multilateral institution today. 

Africa, the next largest continent by population, has no permanent seats on the UNSC, while Europe, representing only a tenth of the earth's population and supposedly the most democratic continent, has half the number of permanent seats.  

North America, representing less than five percent of the earth's population, has a permanent seat.

Instead, should the number of permanent seats remain the same, then the numbers should be as follows: Asia should have three, Africa should have one and Europe should have one. 

But alas, our democrats are only really democratic when it comes to other countries and not when it has direct implications on them.

President Ramaphosa once again re-iterated this need for UN reform, in his pre-recorded address to the UNGA, but the stakes for Africa and its permanent representation on the Council remain high.

Ezulwini Consensus

Fifteen years after the Ezulwini Consensus, the African Union is nowhere closer to reaching an agreement and conclusion on which African countries should represent the continent on the Council. 

The consensus, reached in the Eswatini valleys of Ezulwini and later adopted by the AU at its headquarters, suggested that at least two permanent seats, with veto rights, and five non-permanent seats should go to Africa. 

Who gets the seats, stated the consensus, will be decided by the AU. 

While Nigeria and South Africa seem to be the most obvious candidates for the permanent seats, there is also a case to be made for Egypt. 

Neo-realists would state that Egypt makes the most sense as a permanent member of the UNSC given the country has the largest army in Africa and the second or third largest economy on the continent. 

Weakening economy

As South Africa's defence force and economy weakens, it will have a tough case arguing that it deserves the permanent seat. 

Yet Egypt also kills two birds with one stone, not only will it represent Africa, it will also represent the Middle East which would be an added consideration. 

Nigeria then stands the chance of representing Sub-Saharan Africa while Francophone Africa will also need to be considered with the Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo seemingly the leaders among French speaking Africans in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Arguably African countries have dominated the agenda of the UNSC over the past 75 years. Sadly, as we have seen, while Africa may have been high on the Security Council's agenda, the continent has not had adequate representation. 

Insofar as UN reform though pertains, it would seem that Africans would first have to sort out the outstanding questions among themselves.   

- Wesley Seale has a PhD in international relations.

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